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where i do not exist, nor you

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It happens quietly, without Lu Li even knowing.

It’s been a mess of a week. Lu Li has so many things to do, so many problems to solve, and by the time he’s sorted things on his end out, Chi Zhen’s request for a leave of absence of an undetermined time has been approved, and it’s too late.

It’s not like Lu Li doesn’t try to look for him; he does. But the more Lu Li tries to look, the more the clues dwindle down to nothing, and it looks-

It looks a lot like Chi Zhen is trying to avoid him.

Lu Li knows how to take a hint.

Work is different without Chi Zhen around.

Chi Zhen hasn’t even been Lu Li’s partner for very long, but Lu Li misses his presence, his snarky comments, and his over-the-top expressions.

He misses how easy it is to be around Chi Zhen.

He misses Chi Zhen.

So it’s almost a small blessing when the offer of the promotion comes.

Lu Li’s never wanted to be the chief of the police department, never even thought that he would have to take on the job one day, but he looks at the empty seat at Chi Zhen’s desk and thinks about how they must be looking to assign him a new partner soon, and makes a decision.

If things can’t go back to exactly the way it used to be, then Lu Li doesn’t want to keep the status quo.

He takes the job.

Chi Zhen’s return to the police department happens as unexpectedly as his leave was.

He just shows up to work one day, in one of the same ridiculously floral shirts that he’s so fond of, with that half-smirk on his face.

He struts into Lu Li’s office like it’s just any other day, like he hasn’t been gone for three hundred and seventy-four days without any contact, grins at Lu Li as he settles into the seat before Lu Li, and says, “Lu-ju, my old partner was promoted in my absence. I think I need a new partner.”

And Lu Li knows he doesn’t have the right to be angry at Chi Zhen —he still owes Chi Zhen so much, and Chi Zhen doesn’t have any obligation to keep in touch with Lu Li at all—, but he is.

“Where the hell have you been?” he asks Chi Zhen.

Chi Zhen doesn’t even flinch at Lu Li’s tone, just gives him a pointed look, and says, nonchalant as ever, “Where do you think I’ve been, Lu-ju? I’ve been in recovery.”

“You just left,” Lu Li hisses. “Without a word-”

“I submitted all the requisite applications for leave, while I was badly injured and in the hospital, mind you, because I am a responsible member of the police department, so I would really argue the ‘without a word’ accusation-”

“You know that’s not what I meant!” he snaps, and Chi Zhen quietens down.

“I’m sorry,” Chi Zhen says after a long pause. “I should’ve said something to you, but I figured you had more important things to deal with.”

“I would’ve made time for you,” Lu Li says, honest, and Chi Zhen must read something in Lu Li’s face, because the smile on his face softens into something more genuine, something less for-show.

“I hear you’ve been visiting my mother,” Chi Zhen says, and then grins. “Or at least I’m relatively certain it’s you. I don’t have any other friends who can be described as ‘that polite boy who always looks like he needs a hug and a good meal’.”

Lu Li feels his cheeks heat. “At first I thought I might find you there if I went often enough,” he tells Chi Zhen. “But then it just became a nice routine. I figured it’d be nice to go keep her company once a week. She keeps complaining that you don’t go see her.”

Chi Zhen makes a face. “With the injury and all… I didn’t want her to worry. And then I wanted to leave Hua Cheng for a bit, so I went to Hong Kong.” He shrugs a little. “Enough about me, though. How’re things at home? Is Yinuo well? And Wu Wenxuan?”

Lu Li has been avoiding talking about Wu Wenxuan with pretty much everyone, but if anyone has the right to press Lu Li for an update on this, it’s Chi Zhen.

“She was just sentenced awhile ago. Eight years,” Lu Li says quietly, looking away. “She’s not appealing the sentence.”

Chi Zhen nods. “With good behaviour and a good lawyer, she’ll be out before that,” he tells Lu Li. “You are planning on waiting for her, yes?”

“I told her that she’s always going to be Yinuo’s mother,” Lu Li says.

Chi Zhen nods again. “That’s good,” he says. “That’s just as it should be. I’m...happy for you.” He flashes Lu Li a smile that doesn’t seem to reach his eyes, and that, that seems to confirm the thought that’s been playing through Lu Li’s mind since that day in the scrapyard. “Anyway, I see you’ve kept my workspace empty for me,” Chi Zhen says hastily, standing up. “I’ll just get back to work.”

“Chi Zhen.” Lu Li stands, makes his way around his desk to stand before Chi Zhen. “I was worried about you,” he tells Chi Zhen. His fingers are trembling when he reaches out to cup Chi Zhen’s face. “I thought- I thought you wouldn’t come back.”

“Lu Li, are you out of your mind?” Chi Zhen asks, but he’s also already leaning into Lu Li’s touch, so Lu Li doesn’t pay him much mind, just closes the distance between their lips, and kisses Chi Zhen the way he’s wanted to for the past year.

“I’ve missed you,” Lu Li whispers when he pulls away.

Don’t,” Chi Zhen grits out. “Don’t do this to me if you don’t mean-”

“I do,” Lu Li interrupts him. “I wouldn’t if I wasn’t sure.”

Chi Zhen is the one who initiates their next kiss — fists his fingers into Lu Li’s shirt and tugs him in again, biting down on Lu Li’s lips, and licking into his mouth. “You goddamn bastard,” he gasps out in between kisses. “What do you mean you didn’t think I would come back? Of course I was going to. I was always going to have no choice but to come back. I was only away from you for a year and it felt terrible. I was fine before, without you, and then you came and ruined me.” He presses his face to the crook of Lu Li’s neck. “I love you, Lu Li, you goddamn bastard, of course I was going to come back to you.”

Lu Li’s chest tightens at Chi Zhen’s words. Something settles within him. Everything feels right in this moment. “Good,” he says.

That has Chi Zhen pushing Lu Li away to stare incredulously at him. “That’s all you have to say?” he asks, and it’s not a whine, not exactly, but it’s close enough that it makes Lu Li’s lips twitch. “You’re not even going to say it back? And you didn’t even try to look for me! You had to make me come back on my own, you just had to win, didn’t you?”

“Must you always be a drama queen?” Lu Li asks.

Chi Zhen glares at him. “I am starting to forget what I see in you. How did they manage to promote you to be the chief of the police department with your terrible EQ and social skills?”

Lu Li steps in close again. “Don’t make me write you up for insubordination,” he threatens, but he’s smiling when he kisses Chi Zhen again.